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Sartor refuses to budge on the Block - 29.08.05

Tim Dick SMH Urban Affairs Reporter reports. In Frank Sartor's future for Redfern, everything is negotiable. Except the Block.

The Planning Minister has been trying to find a way out of the impasse in which a Government keen to fix one of Sydney's most sensitive and troubled communities finds itself.

The crux of the problem is that the landowner, the Aboriginal Housing Company, wants to build 62 new homes for Aborigines at the symbolic heart of indigenous Sydney.

But the company does not have enough money and needs funding and planning approval from the State Government. Its current plan will not get either.

Mr Sartor, as the minister responsible for Redfern's redevelopment, insists it is bad policy to spend millions of dollars building medium-density homes for highly dependent people in a tormented part of the city.

"No Government, Labor, Liberal or Calathumpian … will ever support what they are proposing," he told the Herald, admitting the situation was at an impasse.

The way out is unknown. "We won't be compulsorily acquiring their land, no," he said, "but there are other ways of controlling development."

However, Mr Sartor says he has a flexible approach to the suburb's future.

"Everything's negotiable except for concentration of high-dependency housing there," he says. "It seems to me that the focus of the Block ought to be other than residential. Symbolically, I think it's important to have some, but the focus ought to be on other things that bring people there, not necessarily highly-dependent people, brings Aboriginal support, Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal education, even non-Aboriginal."

He believes the mistakes of the past were providing money before having a workable plan of how to spend it. He is adamant this is not a fight about getting Aborigines off the Block, or reducing public housing.

"I don't care if it's white or black, it's not a racial issue," he said. "When you've got people of that [socio-economic] profile, no matter what their ethnic background, you can't afford to create another mire. You've got to give it reasonable probability of success."

Unless one side caves in during the next few months, the issue will be brought to a head by the Redfern-Waterloo Plan and the land use zonings it proposes.

That document will also shed light on the future of Waterloo, although Mr Sartor has scratched earlier plans to demolish the Department of Housing towers.